A living fossil with an ancestry dating back some 270 million years, Ginkgo biloba stands out in the plant world as an object of fascination. A deciduous gymnosperm that persists as a single genus and species, Ginkgo offers scientists a unique glimpse at our botanical and evolutionary past. To celebrate this relict species and explore its botanical importance and relevance in our time, three eminent ginkgo researchers will share their expertise as part of a full-day symposium—Ginkgo Fest—at the Arnold Arboretum on Saturday, May 11 (this event was rescheduled from April 20).
Sir Peter Crane, Dean of Forestry and Environmental Science at Yale; William “Ned” Friedman, Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard and Director of the Arnold Arboretum; and Peter Del Tredici, Senior Research Scientist at the Arnold Arboretum and ginkgo specialist, will lecture on their combined fifty years of ginkgo investigations and lead a tour of the Arboretum’s ginkgo collection. The program will spotlight the history, culture, biology, and conservation of ginkgo, and displays will include examples of ginkgo bonsai created by Peter Del Tredici.
Recognized by its fan-shaped leaves and known for both the beauty of its autumn foliage and the fetid odor of its fruits, Ginkgo has its share of enthusiasts and detractors. The tree and its seeds—when removed from the fleshy and odorous fruits—have been an integral part of Chinese and Japanese culture for centuries. Once distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere but now native only to central China, Ginkgo has made a resurgence in the temperate zones, finding wide use as a street tree and as an ornamental favorite in managed landscapes.
In his book, Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot, Peter Crane writes, “Ginkgo is one of the world’s most distinctive plants and has one of the longest botanical pedigrees; there is no other living tree with a prehistory so deeply intertwined with that of our planet.” The Arboretum’s Ginkgo Fest celebration honors the tree’s unique biology and its critical role in helping us unravel Earth’s deep past. At the same time, as a plant with an ancient history of adapting to challenging and disturbed environments, Ginkgo biloba continues to excite scientists for what it may reveal about the future of plant life in a changing climate.